Airline says Indianapolis-Seattle route off to strong start

Alaska Airlines, which enters the Indianapolis market this week with nonstop flights to Seattle, says it already is seeing strong demand for the service.

Daily flights between Indianapolis International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport begin Thursday evening with a 5:19 p.m. arrival in Indianapolis. The plane heads back to Seattle an hour later, at 6:20 p.m. Flights on this same schedule will be offered daily.

Early indications are that the route will be a success, said John Kirby, vice president of capacity planning at Alaska Airlines. 

“The advance bookings and average fares are already exceeding our expectations,” Kirby told IBJ Wednesday. “We saw very strong demand.”

No other carrier offers nonstop service between Indianapolis and Seattle.

Kirby declined to give specifics on how many passengers have booked tickets on the route. Tickets went on sale last August, when the airline first announced the new service.

But the airline has already announced plans for a second route. On Sept. 26, it will launch nonstop flights between Indianapolis and San Francisco. The airline made that announcement in March. Alaska Airlines doesn’t typically announce additional routes in a new market so quickly, Kirby said, but it did so in this case because demand for the Seattle flights was so high.

Typically, Kirby said, passenger traffic and fare prices in a new market build over three years to reach a mature level. Based on early results, he said it won’t take that long for the Indianapolis market.

Indianapolis had long been on the airline’s radar screen, Kirby said, and several factors made it an attractive market.

Alaska Airlines is based in Seattle and has hubs in Anchorage, Alaska; Los Angeles; and Portland, Oregon. The San Francisco Bay Area is another major market for the airline. 

Indianapolis’ diverse and growing economy, and its tech sector in particular, were attractive to Alaska Airlines, Kirby said.

The airline decided to launch service to Seattle and San Francisco first because of their connection to technology companies.

Both of those cities are home to a number of Fortune 500 internet- and tech-oriented firms. Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia are based in the Seattle area. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to Apple, Facebook, Cisco, and Google parent Alphabet—as well as Salesforce, which is establishing a regional headquarters in Indianapolis.

“We know the tech sector’s very strong in those two cities, and when you see what’s going on in Indianapolis it’s kind of a natural connection,” Kirby said.

Local support from the Indianapolis airport and the Indy Chamber also helped, Kirby said. “We could tell that they were doing a great job of creating awareness for the service.”

Mark Fisher, chief policy officer at the Indy Chamber, said his organization is excited about the new Alaska Airlines flights because they will offer easier access to both the West Coast and Asian cities.

“That connectivity is crucial to our members,” Fisher said.

Fisher said the Chamber promotes new air service in its membership newsletters. It also does market research that it shares with the airport to help build a case for additional service. 

The Chamber is currently surveying its members about where they travel, how they access those cities and how much they might be willing to pay for direct flights to those markets, Fisher said.

The airport has consulted with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the City of Indianapolis, Visit Indy, the Indy Chamber and representatives from the local tech industry, airport spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said. 

“A centerpiece of those efforts included introducing Alaska Airlines network planners to Indiana/Indianapolis businesses and business leaders whose companies could benefit from non-stop service to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest,” McFarland said in an e-mail.

Alaska Airlines does its own market research, Kirby said, but it also values insights from local partners.

“They’ll provide us insight into things that aren’t as obvious.”

Looking ahead, Kirby said, Alaska Airlines has further growth plans for Indianapolis if demand warrants it.

Growth could come from adding more flights to existing markets or by adding new destinations.

Kirby offered Albuquerque, New Mexico, as a typical example of “how we might develop a market if we see success.”

Alaska Airlines began serving Albuquerque in 2014 with one daily flight to Seattle. The airline plans to add three additional routes in that market this year. Service to Portland and San Francisco starts in September, and service to San Diego begins in October.

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